District of Columbia Jail:

Management Challenges Exist in Improving Facility Conditions

GAO-04-742: Published: Aug 27, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2004.

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The District of Columbia's Jail and Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF), which are the District's detention facilities for misdemeanant and pretrial detainees, have been repeatedly cited for violations of health and safety standards. The Jail also has had problems with releasing inmates before or after their official release date, in part, because of inaccuracies in its electronic inmate records. As a follow-on to problems at the Jail reported in 2002 by the District's Inspector General, GAO addressed the following questions: (1) What are the results of recent health and safety inspections? (2) What is the status of the Jail's capital improvement projects, and what policies and procedures does the Department of Corrections (DoC) use in managing the projects? and (3) What progress has been made in improving electronic inmate records at the Jail?

Health and safety inspection reports for the Jail and CTF that were prepared from January 2002 through April 2004 by the District's Department of Health consistently identified problems with air quality, vermin infestation, fire safety, plumbing, and lighting. Officials attributed some of the health and safety deficiencies to the age of the Jail and inmate behavior at both facilities. DoH inspection reports did not always document the specific locations where deficiencies were identified and did not document the date and time when the deficiencies were identified. For example, one report might identify a problem in a specific cell, while another report might state that the problem occurred in some locations, most locations, or throughout the Jail. This limits DoC's ability to determine how prevalent the health and safety deficiencies are, whether problems are recurring in the same locations, or whether conditions changed over time. Of the 16 capital improvement projects for the Jail approved for fiscal years 2000 through 2004, 1 project was completed and 15 were in various stages of development. In addition, the Office of Property Management lacked written policies and procedures concerning project management, which could be important tools in guiding project managers through the planning and management of projects. Although the Office of Property Management established a working group to develop standard operating procedures for managing projects, time frames had not been established for when the working group should complete this work. With respect to early and late inmate release errors, DoC has taken several steps to improve its efficiency and accuracy in processing inmate records, but release errors continue to occur. DoC's improvement efforts have included simplifying the workflow in the Records Office, issuing an operations manual, and developing additional guidance and training for staff. Additionally, DoC developed a database to capture detailed information on incidents that led to each inmate release error. DoC analyzed the information in this database to determine how frequently the incidents occurred. Based on this information, DoC has developed proposals for corrective action to reduce release errors. DoC officials attributed staff processing errors to limited staff resources and the large volume of documents that are continuously received in the Records Office. Because DoC did not have complete data on early and late inmate releases, DoC does not know the full extent to which the release errors occurred. Specifically, DoC may not discover an early release error until long after the inmate has been released. For late releases, DoC used an incomplete methodology, which led to an understated number of actual late releases. During our review, DoC modified this methodology to more accurately identify the number of late releases.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our August 2004 report on conditions at the District of Columbia Jail, we recommended that the District's Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Health (DOH) coordinate with one another to develop a DOH inspection report format that will provide DOC with specific information on the date, time, and location of each health and safety deficiency identified by DOH during its inspection process. We noted that this could help DOC determine the prevalence of the identified deficiency, whether it was new or recurring, if the deficiency had already been fixed, and if health and safety conditions at the facilities were generally improving, worsening, or staying the same over time. In September 2006, the DOC Director wrote GAO that (1)a DOH inspection reporting tool like the one GAO recommended had been developed; (2) the tool would be used for all future inspections of the Jail, and (3) the tool would be further modified to reflect the time that DOH inspectors began the inspection of an area within the facility, and the time they completed it. The DOC Director provided a copy of the inspection tool that had been developed, and the tool showed that it had been formatted to include the specific location and date of the DOH inspection. The tool had not been formatted to record the time of the inspection, however. In a letter dated September 5, 2008, the DOH Director stated that he had spoken with the DOC Director and Deputy Director the previous day. According to the DOH Director, the DOC officials told him that officers at the DC Correctional Facility do record the time of entry and exit for the areas inspected by DOH. The DOH Director added that DOH will amend its inspection forms to include the time of entry and exit for each inspected area to ensure uniformity with the DOC.

    Recommendation: To help DoC determine the prevalence of health and safety deficiencies at the Jail and monitor changes in facility conditions over time, the Mayor should direct the DoC Director to coordinate with the Director of the District Department of Health to develop an inspection report format that will provide DoC with specific information on the date, time, and location of each health and safety deficiency identified.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Executive Office of the Mayor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Our August 2004 report noted that the District of Columbia's Office of Property Management had formed a working group and begun to take steps toward developing policies and procedures to guide its project managers in planning and managing capital improvement projects. We recommended that timeframes be established for the working group to complete its assignment. In June 2005, a Procedures Manual for Capital Improvement Projects was issued, and the manual identifies the process and procedures the Office of Property Management is to use in administering capital construction programs for facilities construction projects. The manual includes sections for project development, design procurement, design administration, construction procurement, construction administration, and closeout of contracts. The recommendation has been fully implemented and is considered closed.

    Recommendation: To help strengthen management of capital improvement projects, the Mayor should direct the Director of the Office of Property Management to establish time frames for completing its work on developing and implementing policies and procedures.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Executive Office of the Mayor


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